PERTH, Nov 10 — Ajla Tomljanovic hauled Australia back into the Fed Cup final today, beating France’s Pauline Parmentier to send the tie in a deciding doubles clash.
The Croatian-born 26-year-old, in her Fed Cup debut for Australia, had been thrashed 6-1, 6-1 by Kristina Mladenovic in the opening singles rubber on Saturday.
But captain Alica Molik kept faith with her and she bounced back to beat Parmentier, preferred by France skipper Julien Benneteau to Caroline Garcia, 6-4, 7-5 at Perth Arena.
The match now goes to a deciding doubles rubber, with Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur scheduled to face Garcia and Mladenovic.
Tomljanovic, ranked 51, came on court after 40th-ranked Mladenovic stunned world number one Barty in a three-set epic to give France a 2-1 lead as they target a first title since 2003 and third overall.
But Tomljanovic rose to the occasion as Australia look for an eighth title and first since 1974.
She went neck-and-neck with the 122nd-ranked Parmentier in the first set until she grabbed a crucial break in the 10th game, despite only getting 31 percent of her first serves in.
Another break in the second gave her a 4-2 lead before Parmentier rallied to take it to 5-5. But, backed by a partisan crowd, Tonljanovic dug deep to keep her country’s hopes alive.
“Really glad I got a second chance today and got the win and kept us in (contention),” she said courtside. “The team has been unbelievable all week and it is such a privilege to play for you guys.”
Earlier Barty, who has been in scintillating form, thrashing Garcia 6-0, 6-0 yesterday after winning the WTA Finals in China last weekend, was stunned 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1).
“It’s hard to speak, you know on this kind of stage, to play the world number one and it was such a thriller,” said an emotional Mladenovic afterwards as the tears flowed.
‘I just kept believing’
“I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and giving her a hard battle. I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and obviously won the game.”
Barty started where she left off after the “double bagel” of Garcia on Saturday, breaking Mladenovic’s first service game with a net volley to extend her streak to 15 games this weekend.
But Mladenovic held serve to end the Barty run and it became a closer affair before the Australian began forcing errors to take the first set.
Barty saved five break points in the opening game of the second set, but Mladenovic finally worked a first crucial break with some quality passing shots, with a forehand long from Barty giving her a 5-4 lead. She held her nerve to serve out the set.
Mladenovic, who beat Barty on clay in Rome earlier this year, was on a roll with the French star breaking then holding for a 3-1 third-set lead.
Stung, Barty rallied for 3-3 but the errors again crept in and she was broken again.
Mladenovic lost focus serving for the match and the see-sawing set ultimately went to a tense tie breaker.
“From my point of view I fought as hard as I could and I hope that I did my team proud and all Australians proud. I fought with everything I had left,” said Barty. — AFP